Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION


Wine festival crowds leave room to taste, but not to take notes

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In the past I've offered some tips and tricks on navigating the Winnipeg Wine Festival's public tastings (May 3 and 4), and the wine festival's website ( and program guide (available at Liquor Marts) do a good job of the same. But in mulling over said program guide, I had a couple of other thoughts that will help maximize your time at the Winnipeg Convention Centre next Friday and Saturday night.

If you've never been to the Winnipeg Wine Festival's public tastings, you might be shocked at just how big the weekend sessions are. Both nights typically sell out (or come close), with capacity each night in the neighbourhood of 2,800 people.

As you can imagine, there's not a ton of elbow room. I've given up on making notes on wines on the Friday and Saturday nights and you should too. Think of some sort of shorthand system for noting how much you liked the wine -- a numerical score or starring system or a check mark. Jotting down even just one word to describe a wine ("oaky," "heavy," "fresh,") will help you remember the most notable characteristic of a wine.

New this year is a VIP reception (Friday, 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.). With only 150 tickets, it's a chance to try wines from the two theme regions -- Argentina and New Zealand -- with some appetizers before the doors open to the public. Tickets are $99.95 and get you into the Friday night tasting (7 p.m.-10 p.m.) as well; if you already have a ticket for Friday night, the VIP reception can be added on for $50.

The Saturday matinee tasting (1:30 p.m.-4 p.m.) is an excellent chance to really dig into the wines at the public tasting. It's five bucks cheaper ($44.95) than the evening tastings and there are fewer people there, meaning there's more elbow room.

Next weekend's public tastings have an on-site Liquor Mart where you can buy wines on your way out. Some wines are brought in specially for the festival, and are only available on-site -- if they sell out, you're out of luck. (If they don't sell out, they're shipped to the Grant Park Liquor Mart the week after the festival.)

There are certainly incentives to buying on-site. For instance, the wine fest Liquor Mart offers 10 times the standard Air Miles reward miles on purchases over $25. Planning on buying a fair bit of vino? The on-site store will ship your order of six bottles or more to the store of your choice for you to pick up.

Convenient and enticing, right? Here's the problem -- the weekend tastings run from 7 p.m.-10 p.m., and the on-site store is jam-packed/overrun starting at about 9:15. Avoid the madness and make sure the wine you want doesn't sell out -- make your initial purchase earlier in the night and the Liquor Mart will hold it for you until you're ready to leave. Find more wines that you like? Pop in, add it to your order and go.

Seriously, don't wait until the end -- you'll be stuck in a lineup surrounded by festival-goers scouring ransacked shelves.

-- -- --

Providing I can get some elbow room, I'll be tweeting from events (@bensigurdson) and updating my blog at throughout this week and through the weekend. Twitter: @bensigurdson


(Central Valley, Chile -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

For some reason there's 15 per cent Carmènere (a purple grape that makes dark, full-bodied red wine) blended in with this Sauvignon Blanc -- and no explanation on the wordy label. No matter -- it's got those green apple, lime, and herbal aromas that are unmistakably Sauv Blanc. It's a light, crisp white, with plenty of grassy/herbal/lime flavours that'll satisfy Sauv Blanc fans. 86/100


(Ribera Del Duero, Spain -- $15.13, Liquor Marts and beyond)

This 100 per cent Tempranillo shows ripe raspberry, caramel, mocha, spice and vanilla -- the latter thanks to 12 months in oak. It's a dry, full-bodied red that delivers raspberry, blackcurrant, wet earth, cocoa and vanilla flavours with soft tannins and light acidity. It's not overly rustic like some Spanish reds but doesn't get super-jammy either. Try with hearty stews, chili or spicy burritos. 88/100


(McLaren Vale, Australia -- $22.22, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Inky black in colour, the Jester Cabernet Sauvignon offers ripe blackcurrant, blackberry, mint leaves and blueberry aromas with some white pepper. This dense, full-bodied McLaren Vale red brings intense jammy berry flavours that don't get cloying, thanks in part to that peppery note as well as light tannins and some heat on the finish (it's 14.9 per cent alcohol). There's a silky, almost-chewy texture to this wine -- decant for an hour and try with medium cheeses, prime rib or a roast. 90/100

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 E4

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